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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Technical Jobs, Age and U.S. Employers

Yesterday I read again about the H1-B visa program in the New York Times. You probably know about the government program that allows very big corporations to use existing older U.S. citizens to train young foreign replacement workers to do the same job. When the training period is over the U.S. citizens get fired. In this way big business can pay far lower wages and benefits but still keep their offices in the U.S.. Congress wholeheartedly supports the H1-B visa program.

I’m unemployed, again. Then again, I’m 56 so most employers want nothing whatsoever to do with me. I have too much experience. I might need to use health insurance. I might require a day off to take care of my parents. I might expect to get a raise for using my experience to improve the profitability of the firm where I work. 

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This photo is not me, at least not yet.

I have technical skills including the ability to write and troubleshoot computer code, conduct User Acceptance testing, author technical documents, including proposals. I can even write apps for iPhones and iPads. I know more about cyber-security than my friends that work at the NSA. I can even teach other people to do all of those things, including write code or scripts. My friends and family members tell me they don’t know anybody that understands as much about technology as I do. Apparently no firms or agencies need somebody like that, at least no 56-year-old.

Yet, when Congress holds hearings on the H1-B program tech executives sit there and say they cannot find qualified candidates. “Qualified” must include age, foreign citizenship and low salary requirements. I don’t hear them say those things but people like me who promptly submit a concise CV in response to matching job openings rarely get so much as a phone interview.

Oddly enough, despite all you have just read, I am not a bitter person, should you meet me on the street. I like to stay positive about the future, informed about current ideas and share what I learn with others. I knew I would be getting laid off soon after I turned 55. I understood I would lose any technical job after just 4 or 5 years. This has happened 4 times in my adult life, despite an excellent performance and attendance record, when I do have a steady job. Employers don’t care about performance very much, it is far more about how much they have to pay you and the cost of your benefits.

One young, inexperienced hiring agent even told me that the cost of my health insurance is a big consideration now for most employers. She suggested I apply for work at places that don’t provide health insurance for their employees. Heather also suggested that I leave the year I earned my college degree off my résumé. Most employers don’t care about a college degree these days anyway, she said. I knew these were dumb ideas but I decided to try them anyway. I got several job offers for entry level clerical positions over the next few weeks. They paid less than unemployment, after taxes and commuting costs.

Corporations really don’t want to hire U.S. citizens to do technical jobs any more. Citizens speak up sometimes, in clear English, about little things like somebody else's sloppy code, unpaid overtime, fair wages or dangerous conditions. Mind you we don’t usually do that because we’ve learned by now that we’ll be included in the next round of endless layoffs if we do tell the truth. It’s better to praise management’s decisions in all cases and just sit there and train the foreign worker to do our job.

Manufacturing and technical jobs, outside of health care, are disappearing, for the most part. America is a service-oriented economy. There is still plenty of work: serving drinks and food, doing oil changes, scanning products at check-out. If I cash out my retirement accounts and spend the money learning to be an dental hygienist, X-ray or MRI technician I’ll probably find a job quickly. The elderly need someone to drive them around, Uber is always hiring.

Moving Forward

Since I always know there will be periods of unemployment ahead of me, I plan extensive for these times. I do an excellent job at work, when I do get a raise or a bonus I buy stocks with that money. My employers can’t fire me so they have to lay me off. I might get some severance pay. After severance I can collect unemployment, if I still haven’t found odd jobs. I have to weigh the unsteady income from consulting against the steady unemployment check during those months.

My retirement accounts have consistently grown, mostly because I have taught myself how to invest wisely. My portfolio has grown 350% over ten years, more from stock growth and dividends than from money I’ve added. My ROI, according to Quicken right now is 116%.

One or two readers are wondering right now why I don’t try to get a job in the financial industry. I have tried. Bankers and brokers don’t care about my investing skills. They want to know how good I am at selling low-return funds to Mom & Pop investors. These funds give them a commission. They tell me researching and investing in high growth/dividend stocks is something only fund managers do well. I wonder to myself why those mutual funds are not growing like my portfolio does, year after year.

Anyway, I can live off consulting income, along with my growing portfolio and healthy dividend checks. I can do technical writing assignments and the occasional business process study. My experience as an advanced cybersecurity trainer gets a gig now and then. I do like to go out in the world more but if American employers don’t want mature people in their offices, I can live with that.

Outside Influences

I don’t expect the current crop of presidential candidates to do anything substantial except drive up the national debt. They are mostly millionaires with little understanding of issues faced by the shrinking middle class. We live in a capitalist monarchy. A Bush or Clinton will be appointed ruler while most people stay home or are prevented from voting on Election Day. That’s okay too, people seem to care more about their favorite sports team or television program than politics or real issues that impact their daily lives.

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I will continue my research, my writing and sharing what I learn with those that want to know more about the topics I study. I will continue to evolve. I taught myself use xCode to create apps for the iPhone or iPad recently. I’m very good with the iPad and know a great deal about OS X El Capitan. There are some people in Europe that would like me to go work for them, for a few months. There always are. I speak and write French, that helps in the EU. I guess I should give up thinking about contributing more to the growth of some U.S. firm. They don’t seem to want a better mobile banking app, tighter cybersecurity or someone who can author technical documents. At least not someone who is 56.

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